May 30, 2018

Looking Back on a Remarkable Year

(2018-MAY-30)

Dear Colleague:

As the academic year winds down, and after sending off more than 9,000 graduates, it is a good time to reflect on our accomplishments and challenges. By any measure, it’s been a remarkable year together.

Looking Back on a Remarkable Year

Mason continues to be one of the most innovative and inclusive public research universities in the nation. For each of the past four years, Mason welcomed a larger, more diverse and academically stronger undergraduate class. Thanks to programmatic innovation and online partnerships, we have seen a robust rebound in graduate enrollment as well. At the same time, Mason competed favorably among the most distinguished group of tier-one research universities in the United States. We have experienced significant growth in multidisciplinary scholarship, as well as extramural research support, thanks to our ability to leverage our diverse range of expertise from the humanities, social sciences and public policy, to health, natural science, and cyber/data sciences. I am most proud of our efforts to provide high-quality education for all while creating world-class research to fuel innovation and social change. These efforts are culminating in our attainment of the vision set out in Mason’s Strategic Plan.

For our students, we have created an incredibly rich repertoire of innovative learning programs. We have seen 14 successful curriculum impact proposals just this year, advancing our goal to differentiate Mason educational offerings. Supporting our rapid growth in enrollment, the Student Experience Redesign and Mason Impact initiatives have engaged hundreds of faculty and staff to envision an exceptional academic experience while immersing students in challenges outside the classroom and beyond the campus. Our Smart Growth plan creates a resource and financial framework in support of our commitment to nourish and strengthen Mason’s faculty core. We are dedicating resources toward new faculty hires, providing an inclusive campus climate for tenure-track/tenured, term and adjunct faculty, recognizing faculty excellence, enhancing new and mid-career faculty professional development opportunities, improving transparency in tenure and promotion processes, cultivating academic leadership, and implementing policies and practices that support continued faculty growth.

While we deservedly celebrate these successes, we must remain mindful that our growth invites new challenges. How we navigate those challenges serve as a measure of the Mason community.

Moving Forward from our Recent Challenges 

One of the more significant challenges we faced this Spring was the discovery of gift agreements that raised concerns about academic independence at Mason. This is an obviously very serious concern and as President Cabrera clearly articulated, we need to determine whether any other gift agreements failed to meet the standards we expect. Toward that end, he asked me to chair a comprehensive review of all active gift agreements supporting faculty appointments and to also oversee a review and possible revision of university gift acceptance policies and procedures.

I recognize that these events have called into question the trust placed in the university by faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the public. The President and I are committed to bringing this matter to a full and transparent resolution.

I see this as an opportunity for the university and the beginning of many conversations about our commitment to academic freedom and independence. As I stated at Faculty Senate, I am troubled by the idea that we might apply some sort of ideological litmus test to determine who may or may not donate to the university or support our faculty. Doing so would run counter to the fundamental tenets of academic freedom. As academics, we welcome different points of view and seek opportunities for open dialogue and rigorous intellectual debate.

Among our colleagues are the world’s best economists, legal scholars, and social scientists, many of whom come from diverse schools of thought based on different theoretic constructs. Instead of applying superficial political labels to these ideas, let’s bring them to the forefront for debate and discussion. After all, many of these constructs are founded on ideas worthy of Nobel Prizes and recognized by seminal publications at premier academic journals. Specifically, my plan is for the Provost office to foster such engagement by hosting a series of academic panels and debates, highlighting and leveraging the world-class talents we have at Mason.

How we work through challenges — in ways that build our partnership — is key to who we are, and by extension what, the university can become. I believe a campus-wide conversation about academic freedom will strengthen the university community now and in the future. It will require endurance, diligence, and intellectual honesty, but we will grow through the challenge. I am committed to doing the hard work with you, convinced that our efforts can magnify Mason’s standing as a truly unique educational and research institution. I am confident we will emerge a stronger institution.

Enhancing Engagement and Communication 

In the same spirit of transparency, I also committed to improving our communication overall. I will continue my effort to visit faculty in all academic departments and divisions, and hold various open forums for direct dialogue with the campus community. Starting in the new academic year this fall, I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences with you through a monthly blog. This is one more channel for ongoing communications, and I anticipate discussing specific topics of interest, addressing emerging issues, and focusing on priorities that you raise as well. And we will start a Provost Office Newsletter to share ongoing initiatives and new ideas for development.  I welcome suggestions from the Mason community.

Until then, thank you for another successful academic year and for the opportunity to serve with you at one of the most dynamic public universities in the nation.

Sincerely,

S. David Wu

Provost and Executive Vice President

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